These Baja towns are your gateway to all things wet and wild

After sailing, scuba diving and nursing tequila hangovers over the years in Mexico’s popular Cabo San Lucas playground, I wanted to see what other destinations were worth visiting. be explored in the region. In the middle of the Baja California peninsula, the sleepy desert town of Loreto called my name.

Friends who recommended the cobblestone town correctly described it as a peaceful town with a rocky, golden, arid landscape and white sandy beaches with generally very few people. Downtown Loreto itself is full of colorful family restaurants with local artisan decor; a handful of boutique accommodations, each housing a modest 15 rooms or less; and a sleepy promenade perfect for running, stretching or doing a quick yoga session on La Darsena beach.

Perhaps even more remarkable: in 1694, Loreto became the destination of the first mission established by the Spanish in all of California. It is also home to Loreto Bay National Park: a marine area of ​​more than 200,000 hectares (nearly 500,000 acres) comprising five islands that was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

I’m an adventurer at heart, so my first move was to explore Loreto Bay National Park: Catalana, Montserrat, Dazante, del Carmen and Coronado are the islands that make up the largest marine protected area in the gulf from California. I signed up to dive with Dolphin Dive Baja, which has PADI certified dive instructors and dive masters who run tours throughout the national park. For one of my dives, we visited Coronado Island, a volcanic landmass with intricate rock wall structures and crevices created over the years with about eight healthy dive sites. As we approached, you could immediately hear the hoarse barking of male sea lions sunning themselves on the island and in the water.

Once we geared up and descended, the baby sea lions dove into the water to play around us on the sandy bottom. Even if you’re not a diver, you can also snorkel along the perimeter of the island and interact with the pups as they dart away from the rock structure. Coronado is also home to good amounts of tropical fish such as angelfish, parrotfish and pufferfish which you can dive or snorkel to see. Other marine species to look out for when exploring the national park include the conch of Cortez, hermit crabs, moray eels, starfish and the elusive seahorse.

On the way back, we pass in front of the island of Carmen, nicknamed “white gold” at the time because of the salt mine which has now disappeared. Although I didn’t get a chance to try it, I saw seven tents set up on the island and discovered kayaking companies like Sea Kayak Adventures that offer beach camping for about a year. week and who strive to allow customers to spend 2 nights per island. Being planted on a remote island to experience the nighttime sounds of nature, fresh seafood, and active kayaking can only be described as an outdoor girl’s dream. Back in downtown Loreto, a must-do dining experience is the Almejas chocolatas (chocolate clams) buffet held every Saturday at the Oasis Hotel. They put together a presentation of the traditional pre-Hispanic preparation of chocolate clams: a hearth in the middle of the sandy beach is covered with chamizo branches that create a combination of roasting and steaming the shells.

Before leaving Loreto, I saw Loreto Bay National Park from another angle: by boat. ABT Sailing is a professional shipping company with well-maintained boats and offers excursions from the mangrove-fringed marina of Puerto Escondido. Depending on the time of year, you can see manta rays in their hundreds near the marina in June and July and blue and humpback whales from January to March near Dazante Bay, as 60% of the world’s mammals come in this region. The highlight of the cruise was the “honeymoon cove” on Dazante Island, where you can disembark, hike and see all five islands in the bay in less than 30 minutes. Some sites to watch out for are the yellow-legged gull (endemic to the bay); pelicans; seagulls; and flora like the purple flowers of Mamilaria and the Copal plant, whose fragrant gum the missionaries used for incense.

After a few vitamin D-soaked days in Loreto, I said goodbye and took a 45-minute flight south to La Paz, Mexico, also located along the Baja Peninsula, which went like a desert landscape around me as we descended. However, during the taxi ride, it immediately became apparent that the La Paz boardwalk is the destination’s main attraction, containing trendy seafood restaurants like La Faim (casual eatery) and Bismarkcito (an establishment in the 60s), high-end hotels. , and tons of outdoor retailers ranging from bike and scooter shops to water sports stores. The crowd was a mix of couples, families and groups of friends celebrating birthdays or last days as singles.

To get away from the hustle and bustle of the boardwalk, I took a one-hour speedboat ride from La Paz Marina to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Espiritu Santo. One of the destination’s towering islands, Los Islotes, is home to a sea lion colony of 500: a combination of males, females and juvenile mammals and the largest sea lion colony in Baja California. After my experience in Loreto, I became obsessed with playful animals. They didn’t disappoint me: several nimble puppies nibbled my hand, fins, cameras, and even pulled my hair. At the dive site I also encountered thousands of sardines swarming with cormorants, which are diving birds that create this artistic separation of large schools of fish. Divers may encounter colorful sergeant majors, parrotfish, and sea turtles if they choose to explore from the surface.

The vibe of La Paz that comes to mind most is the local energy that drives you to walk or bike the Malecon, eat or shop (don’t forget to visit the former strip of Chinatown, now an arts and crafts market where you can score everything from handcrafted wooden carvings to traditional shot glass souvenirs). For example, I tested my Spanish skills by sampling artisan dishes at Hambrusia with its Spanish-only menu and ordering artisan fish tacos. One night I dined at Nemi, a romantic spot with gray and dark blue accent walls lit only by candles and Edison bulbs. I ordered the sugar, sea salt and Mezcal marinated sea bass with white asparagus from Ensenada. Washing down my meal with organic beer at the Panderia Pan D’Les bar, I also savored the essence of the Bajas: the smell of salt in the air with the colorful locals all around me who guaranteed a future return. .

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